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Biosecurity for small flock poultry

Randy Black Extension Connections
Randy Black
Extension Connections

In the USA the keeping of small flocks of poultry is one of the fastest growing hobbies. If you have a small poultry flock or are thinking of getting one you will be investing time and money. Biosecurity procedures to protect that investment can be used to prevent the introduction of disease and/or the spread of disease.  These procedures can and do work.  There is a tremendous difference between growing a commercial poultry flock and a hobby flock; but many if not all of the standards listed for commercial poultry growers can be used and/or adapted for small hobby and exhibition flocks. A few simple Biosecurity procedures that can be used by the hobby/backyard/small flock owner are as follows:
1. Recognize the signs of illness. You as the poultry owner know your birds and in fact you probably look at your birds more than once a day. As such you can detect early signs of illness such as a change in the bird’s behavior; you  know that your birds are just not acting right. There are many poultry diseases but typically some of the first signs of illness are a drop or cessation of egg production, a lack of appetite, sneezing, gasping, diarrhea, a drop in water consumption, discharges from the eye and/or nostrils, ruffled feathers, huddling, and a bird keeping to itself.
2. Do Not Bring Disease Home With You.   If you purchase new birds make sure you look at them closely (even if from a reputable source) to check for signs of illness. This also true if it is your own bird returning from a poultry exhibit. Admittedly, poultry exhibitors are trying to place at a show and a sick bird does not win. Unfortunately, it is possible that a bird could still be incubating a disease and some diseases cause few signs unless a bird becomes stressed. It is always best to isolate (quarantine) new and returning birds away from your home flock for a period of at least 30 days. Most diseases should manifest within this quarantine period. Isolate the birds as far away from your home flock as you can (at least 100 feet, if possible) and be sure and care for these quarantined birds last. Since equipment, such as crates, nest boxes, etc. could be contaminated with feces, exudates, etc. that can contain disease organisms, it is best to not borrow equipment. If that is not possible, then thoroughly clean and disinfect the equipment before taking it onto your premise and before and after usage. If you visit an area where there are waterfowl (such as ponds, lakes, and hunting) or areas with poultry make sure you change clothes and shoes and wash your hands before checking on your birds.
3. Clean and disinfect.  Keep poultry facilities clean and free of weeds, debris, spilled feed etc. In addition, clean areas around your poultry pens and facilities.
4. Practice good vermin control. Mice and rats can carry diseases that can infect your birds. They can also attract snakes. Fly, buffalo gnat, and mosquito control are also important since these insects can carry and spread diseases. Wild birds should be excluded from your poultry pens as well. Secure poultry pens are necessary to exclude other wildlife, which may be predators of your poultry or could bring in diseases. Although not vermin, pets should also be kept out of the poultry pens.
5. Keep away/Restrict visitors.  Visitors could accidentally contaminate your poultry. Restrict visitors to your farm/poultry facility. Have all visitors clean their shoes/boots and disinfect before visiting your poultry flock. A pair of boots for visitors to wear and a pair you wear just around your birds are even better. Keep your poultry pens and facilities locked to prevent access.
6. Get Help/Report the Unusual.   If you see something in your bird that is unusual or is “just not right” get help immediately. Contact your local veterinarian, local county extension agent, Extension poultry veterinarian, state veterinarian, or USDA hotline. If you do have a bird die consider submitting it to your state or university diagnostic laboratory for evaluation. This diagnostic service may be free or have a minimal fee. You, the poultry grower, are the first line of defense of your flock be it a commercial flock or a hobby flock. Commercial poultry growers should follow their integrators policies on Biosecurity and should contact their service personnel if they have questions or problems. Hobby and small flock owners with questions can contact the Extension office at 870-867-2311.
It is the policy of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture to provide equal
employment opportunities and to offer all its programs to eligible participants without regard to race, color, age, religion, sex, national origin, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status.

Randy Black is a County Extension Agent with the University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, located in Montgomery County. You may reach him at 870-867-2311 or 117 Ray Drive, or by email at rblack@uaex.edu.  You can also follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/montgomerycountyextension.

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